It will take vision, hard work, political bravery, and realistic investment to make progress amidst children’s mental health crisis, writes Sean Duggan
A government pledge has started the ball rolling on tackling a growing mental health crisis in our children and young people but we must not underestimate the scale of the task at hand.
It will take vision, hard work and political bravery, and realistic investment, to make the progress necessary for young people who, at the most vulnerable time of their lives, are repeatedly unable to access the care and support they need.
With half of mental health issues established by age 14, and 75 per cent by age 24, and head teachers reporting pupil wellbeing as one of their top concerns, there is a lot riding on this.
In 2016, just 28 per cent of children and young people were getting the treatment they need
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of getting children and young people’s mental health care right. And getting it right now.
In 2016, just 28 per cent of children and young people were getting the treatment they need and while there is investment to get that number up to 35 per cent by 2020-21, there is clearly a long way to go.
The University of Birmingham’s Mental Health Policy Commission describes access to appropriate support as a “lottery” for young people, with long waiting lists and services that do not address the range of challenges they are facing.
Workforce is also a huge issue, with the same University of Birmingham report saying we need another 23,800 staff to plug the gaps in provision for under 25s.
All is not lost
In the face of these difficulties, it is easy to forget there is actually still so much great work being done.
Our members are providing excellent and often innovative services, such as Place2Be’s counselling in schools and XenZone’s social media inspired Kooth project.
North East London Foundation Trust recently transformed its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services from being rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission to “outstanding” in little over a year, proving that when services are adequately resourced and developed, they can deliver huge improvements for patients and their families.
The Department for Health and Social Care’s commitment, including up to 8,000 new staff supporting young people at schools and colleges, a pledge to pilot four week waiting times for access to specialist services and a trailblazer scheme to lead the way in joining up services between likes of schools, councils and charities is timely and welcome.
Our members are providing excellent and often innovative services, such as Place2Be’s counselling in schools and XenZone’s social media inspired Kooth project
Indeed, it could be a shot in the arm for the sector. Of course, it is important the announcement is part of the journey rather than seen as a destination. No one should be under any illusions that this announcement will solve all of the problems for children and mental health care provision.
We know improvements will take time and this could kickstart them.
Money does matter
However, we need these roles to form part of the wider 10 year workforce plan – there is huge imminent need across the board and we must be sure we are not taking staff away from already overstretched core services.
Prevention and dealing with problems earlier, before they develop, is vital so greater integration with schools and colleges, as well as other agencies is to be celebrated.
We hope the trial of the trailblazer teams and other pilots produces tangible results. If they do, they must be rolled out without delay to help children and young people in need across the country.
According to a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation, mental health funding would need to double to £32bn a year by 2033-34
But most pressing is the need for fairer funding for mental health. The prime minister and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens have both talked about mental health being a priority in the long term NHS plan and we need to see that commitment backed up with both strategy and money for mental health services.
According to a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation, commissioned by the NHS Confederation, mental health funding would need to double to £32bn a year by 2033-34 so we can treat 70 per cent of people with common mental health problems, up from the current 40 per cent. To give you some context, even with this increased funding, mental health funding would still only be 12 per cent of the overall health budget.
Addressing the crisis in children and young people’s mental health is not simple and it will not be quick. The government’s announcement is a step in the right direction and let’s hope it accelerates a bigger step-change.